How To Refinish an Exterior Door

Your front door says a lot about your home. For many Nashvillians, a beautiful hardwood entry door is the mark of a well-loved home, a welcoming front porch, and a point of historic pride. Depending on your home’s age and exposure, however, the elements can wreak havoc on the fit and finish of your entry door. If your exterior doors are starting to show some wear, look a little shabby, or hang a little more loosely than you’d like, then it’s time to get to work on refinishing your front door. While it may be tempting to chuck the old door into the trash and buy a replacement, let’s take a moment to consider whether or not that beautiful antique door can be returned to its original glory. While inexpensive options exist, you’ll miss the look and authenticity of the real deal. It’s also worth noting that a new, custom hardwood door can set you back thousands of dollars.

Whether you’re comfortable with the highest levels of DIY or you’re new to the old home ownership game, our guide to refinishing an exterior door will set you on the right path.

Let’s give your old door a new look with our step-by-step guide to front door refinishing.

Remove the Front Door

The first step to front door refinishing is to take the door off its hinges. Use a hammer and a nail to remove the hinge pins and then carefully remove the door. It’s worth noting that when you do it right, refinishing a wood door can take a couple of days. However, if you start the process early in the day, you’ll have plenty of time to reach the point where you can rehang the door securely in the afternoon.

Antique front doors can be incredibly heavy (that’s part of their enduring charm), so have padded sawhorses set up in your workshop or in a shaded area. Make sure that you have an assistant at hand to help you carry the door and place it on the sawhorses. There’s no sense in inflicting additional damage to the door or to your lower back!

Remove the Hardware

Once you’ve moved the door from your house to your work space, carefully remove all of the hardware. This is a critical step! While you may think you can simply use painter’s tape to work around the hardware, you’ll be disappointed with the uneven results. Take the time to do it right. Trust us, remove the hardware.

Sand Flat Surfaces

Use an orbital sander and 80-grit sandpaper to quickly remove the existing paint, finish, or weather-damaged wood from the doors flat surfaces. Then, sand again with 100-grit and finally, with 120-grit. There’s no need to go finer at this point; this will provide a smooth finish and an optimal surface for stain, varnish, or paint adhesion. Wipe sanding dust away with a soft rag.

Scrape Moldings and Detail Work

Using a small, sharp scraper, carefully reach into the corners of the details and narrow profiles. Gently pull the scraper with the grain, using both hands to apply even pressure. Whatever you do, work carefully to avoid gouging the wood or yourself!

Sand Grooves and Edges

Cut a full sheet of 100-grit sandpaper into quarters and then fold it in half or thirds, whichever is more comfortable for you and sand the molding, grooves, and details with smooth, back and forth motions. A sanding sponge can help you get into the nooks and crannies that your fingers can’t reach. Wipe and vacuum away the sanding dust.

Seal and Finish Top and Bottom Edges

At this point in the day, you’re probably getting ready for a break! While your door is still resting comfortably on your sawhorses, finish the top and bottom edges of the door. Take a well-deserved rest while the edges dry. Once the edges have dried, you can rehang the door without worrying about damaging the finish along the top or bottom.

Apply Finish

Once your door has been rehung, you can apply the finish. Paint is incredibly durable and weather-resistant, stain can bring out the natural grain in your vintage door, and spar varnish looks great and can take whatever Mother Nature dishes out. Ultimately, the choice is yours.

Regardless of the finish you choose, we recommend using a new, high-quality China-bristle brush. First, paint the vertical and horizontal details, taking care to wipe off any drips of excess finish from dry surfaces immediately. Finally, smoothly coat the flat surfaces and allow the door to dry overnight, keeping it ajar, if at all possible.

Sand Some More and Apply Final Finish Coats

After the surface of your newly refinished door has dried overnight, hand sand it with 220-grit sandpaper and apply your second coat. Allow the surface to dry overnight, clean the door with a soft cloth and sand once again with a 280-grit sandpaper. Once you’ve removed the dust, you’re ready to apply your final coat.

Reattach Hardware, Weatherstripping, and Admire

Once your final coat has had ample time to dry, it’s time to reattach the hardware and weatherstripping and admire your hard work. Congratulations! You’ve successfully refinished your wood exterior door!

While it’s an incredibly rewarding process, we understand that front door refinishing is a painstakingly detailed home-improvement undertaking that isn’t for everyone. Save time and ensure the job is done right by hiring the professionals at Nash Painting. Request a Nash Painting estimate today!